"I have no pensées"

August 3: Colette died on this day in 1954, and four days later was honored by France with the first state funeral given a woman… Colette died on this day in 1954, and four days later was honored by France with the first state funeral given a woman — almost 10,000 in attendance, telegrams from parliaments and princes, flowers from the French Legion of Honor and the association of music-hall artists. Near the end of her life, one enterprising American thought that he might coax one last book from the ailing author. Armed with introductions from Jean Cocteau and Anita Loos (she and Colette had collaborated on Gigi), he managed an interview, and eventually made his pitch for a book of “your thoughts in aphoristic form…something like the Pensées of Pascal….” Colette was horrified:

I have no pensées. As a matter of fact, thanks be to God, perhaps the most praiseworthy thing about me is that I have known how to write like a woman, without anything moralistic or theoretical, without promulgating.

***

…Both Producers Research and High-Grade Living declare
He was fully sensible to the advantages of the Installment Plan
And had everything necessary to the Modern Man,
A phonograph, a radio, a car and a frigidaire.
Our researchers into Public Opinion are content
That he held the proper opinions for the time of year;
When there was peace, he was for peace: when there was war, he went….

—from W. H. Auden’s “The Unknown Citizen,” first published in The Listener on this day in 1939

 

“My problem is, I’m a man of no convictions. (Longish pause.) At least, I think I am.”

—from Christopher Hampton’s The Philanthropist, which premiered on this day in 1970; Tom Stoppard has said that the quip is his favorite line in modern British theater

 

The moral sense has been bred out of certain sections of the population, like wings have been bred off certain chickens to produce more white meat on them. This is a generation of wingless chickens, which I suppose is what Nietzsche meant when he said God is dead.

—from a July 20, 1955 letter by Flannery O’Connor, who died on this day in 1964; although the comment is directed towards her contemporaries in general, O’Connor’s specific target was the New Yorker reviewer of A Good Man is Hard to Find, who had been too “moronic” to get her theme and too wingless to give his name

 

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